10 Ways to Live Forever

Have scientists discovered the Fountain of Youth? The Daily Beast examined almost 100 theories, using clinical trials and scientific studies, to determine 10 that may actually extend life.

#1, CALORIC RESTRICTION

What it is: A carefully calculated regimen that heavily reduces the number of calories ingested per day.

Why it works: When a person ingests fewer calories, cells are signaled to become less active—like a car driving fewer miles, they are protected from wear and tear, slowing the body’s aging process. Also reduces risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

What the experts say: “There have been a lot of studies in humans and animals which show that it doesn’t necessarily concern what you eat but the amount of what you eat,” says Christy Carter, a professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Aging and Geriatric Research. “And so that’s the most important thing for extending longevity.” Though only preliminary experiments have been conducted on humans—avid supporters of this technique rely heavily on tests done on mice and rats—there’s general confidence that this strict regimen could let people live a little longer. Eric Ravussin, who studies human health and performance at Louisiana’s Pennington Biomedical Center, quantified the effect: “Eat 15 percent less starting at age 25 and you might add 4.5 years to your life.”

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#2, MEDITERRANEAN DIET

What it is: A diet that emphasizes high consumptions of oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fish; moderate quantities of dairy; and a low amount of meat.

Why it works: The Mediterranean diet’s most compelling component is its emphasis on antioxidants, which clean up after the toxic byproducts of burning calories, preventing them from causing cell damage. Olive oil is also lauded for providing a wealth of nutrients, including a high level of monosaturated fats that may reduce risk of coronary heart disease and regulate cholesterol.

What the experts say: “Both men and women who report eating foods closest to the [Mediterranean diet] are about 10-20 percent less likely to die over the course of a study of heart disease, cancer or any other cause,” according to medical researchers in the October 2009 issue of Maturitas. Heavy amounts of vegetables and olive oil may also enhance bone metabolism, prevent cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

#3, RESVERATROL (RED WINE)

What it is: A substance that plants naturally produce when attacked by bacteria. It is present in red grapes and red wine.

Why it works: A common factor in age-related diseases—such as strokes, heart attacks and Alzheimer’s—is unnoticed inflammation. Resveratrol acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, says Joseph Maroon, author of The Longevity Factor. Like Caloric Restriction, Resveratrol produces a signal that reduces age-related diseases and promotes longevity in yeasts, worms, flies, and some fish.

What the experts say: Though drugs like aspirin achieve the same anti-inflammatory effect, Maroon pointed out that Resveratrol, a natural substance, does not have any known negative side effects. David Sinclair, one of the main researchers involved in the project, told the NIA, “Continued study of calorie restriction mimetics such as Resveratrol may eventually point the way to new medicines to treat diseases of aging.”

#4, TELOMERE ELONGATION

What it is: Elongating telomeres (tiny caps on the ends of DNA strands) so that cells can continue to divide—and thus the animal or person can continue living.

Why it works: Each time a cell divides, the daughter cells inherit slightly shorter telomeres until they reach a critical level when cell division stops—and new cells can no longer replace their aging predecessors. Elongating telomeres would enable the cells to keep dividing.

What the experts say: Telomere elongation has been tested in fruit flies and mice, but its effect as a means of longevity has not yet been tested in humans. However, a recent German study, which examined several groups of active and sedentary men and women, found that people who exercise have longer telomeres.” Beyond increasing longevity, targeting these cellular mechanisms may also help age-related diseases, such as neurodegeneration, cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular disease, according to an article published in the 2007 edition of Current Alzheimer Research.

#5, VEGETARIAN DIET

What it is: The three main types of vegetarian types include semi-vegetarians (plant food, dairy products, eggs and fish), lacto-ovo vegetarians (plant food, dairy products and eggs) and vegans (plant food only).

Why it works: Though there is debate whether vegetarians actually outlive health-conscious non-vegetarians, this diet is praised for its emphasis on nutrient-filled fruits and vegetables.

What the experts say: Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies at Oklahoma State University, says that a vegetarian diet could work as a longevity technique because it achieves the same effect as Caloric Restriction. “The main thing, to be frank, is really calories. Different people can reduce their calories by being on different diets. Often times, if you’re on a vegetarian diet, you automatically cut back on the calories. Vegetarians must be mindful of the nutritional deficiency that may occur from eliminating dietary staples such as meat and dairy products.

#6, MICRONUTRIENTS AND VITAMINS

What it is: Vitamins that contain zinc (a metal), niacin (a B-vitamin) and selenium.

Why it works: These micronutrients, often available in pill form and necessary for cell function, may help the body fight disease. They are also antioxidants, meaning they clean up after the toxic products of energy consumption, preventing them from causing cell damage.

What the experts say: Micronutrients are “beneficial provided that they are taken in with whole foods as opposed to extracts and supplement form,” says Saint Louis University researcher Edward Weiss, who specializes in nutrition and dietetics. Sometimes, a nutrient may be beneficial when consumed as part of a fruit or vegetable, but when chemically extracted into a pill, it can produce an adverse effect. Weiss offered the example of dietary nitrates, which, on their own, may cause cancer, but can lower blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease when eaten in the form of a dark, leafy vegetable, whose plentiful antioxidants and vitamins offset the cancer-inducing effects.

#7, MEDITATION AND YOGA

What it is: Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and aerobics that induce relaxation.

Why it works: A small number of scientists believe that yoga techniques that calm the body may achieve the same results as Caloric Restriction (immune-modulating effects may reduce inflammation) and telomere elongation (caused by reducing cognitive stress and increasing positive state of mind). Researchers, however, agree that the calming, fitness-enhancing side effects of yoga often improve quality of life.

What the experts say: Joseph Mookin, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh, lists meditation among the four main factors that control human longevity. “Those practices are one of the main features of the lives of centenarians,” Mookin says. “Usually [people living past age 100] are spiritual or have good family lives or they very clearly meditate or pray.” Christy Carter, who works at the University of Florida’s Department of Aging and Geriatric Research, adds, “As far as keeping your stress levels down, [yoga] is an amazing thing. Also it increases your flexibility, which is really important as you age because as you age, you also become more susceptible to falls.”

#8, RAPAMYCIN

What it is: This drug is best known for its ability to prevent rejection in organ transplants, but it recently succeeded in increasing the lifespan of a mouse.

Why it works: Rapamycin mimics many of the effects of Caloric Restriction and, like Resveratrol, could potentially reduce metabolic activity by producing a signal which effectively instructs the cells to be less active—protecting them from damage and slowing the body’s aging process.

What the experts say: The use of Rapamycin as an anti-aging drug, especially for humans, is relatively new, and the drug’s immunosuppressant quality will make it especially difficult for the human body to digest it. Like Resveratrol, its allure is the potential of Caloric Restriction’s benefits without the difficulty of eating much less food. “It’s a huge appeal and it’s a huge positive,” says Joseph Maroon, author of The Longevity Factor.

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#9, PALEOLITHIC DIET

What it is: A diet that mimics what cavemen ate, specifically lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts. The regimen eschews such products as cereals, dairy products, salt and processed fat and sugar.

Why it works: According to a 2005 issue of Scandinavian Journal of Food and Nutrition, “the underlying rationale is that foods that were available during the evolution of primates, up to the emergence of fully modern humans, are healthier than recently introduced ones (dairy products, cereals, beans, refined fat, sugar, etc.), since our digestive and metabolic systems were not designed for the latter group of foods.”

What the experts say: The trickiest part about a Paleolithic diet is that there doesn’t seem to be a uniform interpretation of what it actually entails, explains Saint Louis University researcher Edward Weiss. Raw red meat, for example, is a staple for some Paleolithic dieters but is most likely to lead someone to the emergency room. Still, experts laud this regimen for its emphasis on whole intact fruits and vegetables, a component required in all variations of the diet.

#10, HEALTHY DIET AND EXERCISE

What it is: An old-fashioned mix of the right foods and a reasonable amount of exercise.

Why it works: Think back to the food pyramid you learned about in first grade. An even mix of grains, proteins, dairy, fruit, vegetables and, yes, even sweets provides for a nutritionally balanced meal. Exercise, too, releases endorphins and keeps the body in shape, while combating diseases, managing weight, boosting energy levels and enhancing sexual drive. 

What the experts say: “Absolutely the best approach is a healthy diet, and I don’t think that can be emphasized enough,” says Saint Louis University researcher Edward Weiss. Of course, there is no way to pinpoint the exact effects of this sort of regimen. “Certainly watch your weight, exercise, try to minimize stress—all of those things will work together but it's not like where you’re giving something or doing some manipulating and you really can see that it has a marked effect,” says Arlan Richardson, director of Oklahoma State University’s Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies.